One hundred years after he took a bullet meant for his father, Sheldon S. Nicks will get his overdue recognition.
That news served as quite a birthday present for the grand lady of Port Richey, Frances Clark Mallett, who turned 89 on Dec. 9. She is Sheldon Nicks' niece.
"I couldn't talk when the lieutenant told me,'' she said. "I was crying.''
Lt. Mike Schreck heads up the honor guard for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and since May has been considering a compelling argument by Mrs. Mallett and Gulf High School math teacher/amateur historian Jeff Miller. They said Sheldon Nicks should be honored along with the other six Pasco lawmen killed in the line of duty, the first in 1922.
The Sheriff's Office is now making plans to include Nicks at its annual memorial ceremony on the steps of the historic courthouse in Dade City on May 1. Nicks was murdered on May 8, 1909.
Mrs. Mallett, still precise in her research and recollections with the West Pasco Historical Society, will lay a rose on the new marker.
In addition to the local recognition, Schreck has begun the process of getting Nicks' name on memorial walls in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. And the honor guard will clean and maintain Nicks' headstone, which has weathered badly over the years at the Brooksville Cemetery.
So why did it take so long?
Unraveling history can be a painstaking process, but it's Miller's passion. You can tell when you visit the Web site he created some years ago, www.fivay.org, which is packed with fascinating stories and old photos, many from Mrs. Mallett's personal collection.
She knew that Sheldon had been killed while his father, H.R. Nicks, was attempting to arrest a man in the rough turn-of-the-century lumber mill town of Fivay, which lasted for eight years where these days Little Road meets State Road 52. What Mrs. Mallett didn't know, until Miller found old newspaper articles in Tampa and Gainesville, was that Sheldon was described as a deputy.
H.R. Nicks, Mrs. Mallett's grandfather, was the chief law enforcement officer in western Pasco, having moved to the coast from Spring Lake in Hernando County. He took his 23-year-old son with him on May 8, 1909, to arrest an escaped convict named Henry Wilson. When confronted, Wilson pulled a pistol and fired. Sheldon jumped in front of his father and was killed instantly.
A July 24, 1909, article in the Gainesville Sun identified Sheldon as a deputy and reported that Pasco County, Gov. Albert Gilchrist and H.R. Nicks were offering a $1,025 reward for information leading to an arrest. The killer was never brought to justice.
The Sheriff's Office began honoring officers killed in Pasco after Sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo'' Harrison was shot to death in 2003. The others are Prohibition Agent John Waters and Constable Arthur "Fleece'' Crenshaw (1922), Deputy William Henry Nix O'Berry (1926), Deputy Herbert "Bert'' McCabe (1948) and Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad'' Crooks (1998).
At Sheldon Nicks' grave in Brooksville, you can make out an inscription: "Gone but not forgotten.''
That has never been more true.